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The Rhetoric of Redemption

Chesterton, Ethical Criticism, and the Common Man


Alan R. Blackstock

The Rhetoric of Redemption: Chesterton, Ethical Criticism, and the Common Man examines the literary criticism written by G. K. Chesterton between 1902 and 1913 from a rhetorical standpoint to ascertain whether Chesterton did in fact create the «criticism for the common man» he aimed for. To answer this question, this book explores the relationships among writers, readers, books, and critics both during the time Chesterton first began writing and in the context of rhetorical and critical tradition from Plato to the present day. Ultimately, this book argues that Chesterton's unorthodox approach to literature, while still dismissed by the academic establishment, raises fundamental questions about the nature and function of literature and criticism that need to be raised anew in every generation and especially in the wake of each new critical episteme.
The Rhetoric of Redemption is extremely useful for both scholars and students of literary criticism and Chesterton enthusiasts who are interested in his approach to literature. This book would also be a valuable resource for courses in nineteenth-century British literature, literary criticism, and rhetorical analysis.


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Chapter Seven: “The Very Temper of the Age”: The Romantic Revolt from Victorian Rationalism 85


Chapter Seven “The Very Temper of the Age:” The Romantic Revolt from Victorian Rationalism The enthusiastic public response to Chesterton’s literary essays in the periodicals soon won him commissions to write book-length studies of a wide range of authors, including Blake, Browning, Carlyle, Shaw, and Tolstoy, combining biographical detail with literary, social, and ethical criticism, and aimed at readers of the Home University Library and similar cheap popular imprints. Among the most successful of the books in the Home University Library series, from a critical and commercial standpoint, was The Victorian Age in Literature (1913). Unlike the biographies, how- ever, The Victorian Age provided an overview of the major social and philosophical issues of the Victorian period and analyzed their effects on Victorian writers and their works. Although the Home University Library, like the Everyman classics, was intended to be a resource for students, an early review of The Victorian Age justly observed that the book was written “not for those who wish to know, but for those who know already” (Conlon, Critical Judgments 306). In fact, Chesterton’s approach diverged so radically from the general trend of the series that its editors felt compelled to preface the edition with a warning that “this book is not put forward as an authorita- tive history of Victorian literature. It is a free and personal statement of views and impressions about the significance of Victorian literature...” (423). Evidently, then, Chesterton wrote not for students wishing to learn some- thing about Victorian literature, as...

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